Your gut and brain have a strong connection, something you should pay more attention to
The gut and brain share a strong connection; it can link feelings of stress and anxiety to having stomach problems, and link stomach problems to feelings of overwhelming anger or sadness.
With such a strong connection, the gut-brain link is something people should be paying more attention to. People have “gut-wrenching” experiences, feel “butterflies” in their stomach, and “feel nauseous” at the thought of public speaking. With a growing understanding of the relationship between the gut and brain, it can be said that these are more than everyday expressions. The gastrointestinal tract is sensitive to emotion and feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, joy, and others can trigger symptoms in the gut.
The brain also has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines; the simple thought of eating food can release digestive juices before food reaches the stomach. The effects of this connection go both ways such that troubles in the stomach or intestine send signals to the brain and vice versa. This means that distress experienced in the stomach can be the cause or product of anxiety, stress, or depression – demonstrating how intimately the gastrointestinal (GI) system and brain are connected.
This can be seen in cases where people have an upset stomach without any previous physical cause. Such disorders are difficult to address without the knowledge of the effects of stress and emotions on the GI system.
It may be more than emotions
Relationships are challenges spaces for emotions and often are triggers for stress. Difficulties in relationships affect everyone, but women are more susceptible to “gut stress” from relationships, whereas men are more likely to experience “mental stress” from financial pressures, however it can go both ways.
There are many pressures you experience that trigger your stress, however, internalising it can lead to the development of chronic symptoms such as heart disease, hypertension, obesity, and depression.
Learning to deal with stressful situations and events can dramatically improve your overall health and well-being.
You and your stress
When you are stressed changes begin to take place in your gut bacteria. Bad bacteria begins to grow and the good bacteria starts to die off. In turn, this changes the way your body digests the food you eat as different bacteria processes foods into different molecules.
Unfortunately, stress can also increase your chances of leaky gut. Eating processed foods has negative effects on your gut and intestines. When molecules deviate and escape from your intestine they bypass your immune-processing pathways, increasing inflammatory responses, chronic diarrhea, gas, constipation, and other problems.
Increased levels of stress will also affect your mood. To counter stress in your body your gut will produce more of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin than your brain. Unfortunately, stress curbs the production of the ‘happy hormone’ which leaves a person feeling uneasy and at risk of depression.
Stress keeps you stuck in “fight or flight” mode. In prehistoric times, it was necessary to divert all your energy to your muscles so that you were ready to run if danger approached or fight if the need arose. After the threat had passed you could relax and the tension and stress that was built up during that time would subside. Chronic stress keeps you in a constant state of panic and tension. This alters your digestion which can cause cramps, bloating or constipation.
Below is a list of stress symptoms to look out for. Once aware of your stressors you can also ease your digestive discomforts.
- Stiff or tense muscles, especially in the neck and shoulders
- Sleep problems
- Shakiness or tremors
- Recent loss of interest in sex
- Weight loss or gain
- Grinding teeth
- Difficulty completing work assignments
- Changes in the amount of alcohol or food you consume
- Taking up smoking, or smoking more than usual
- Increased desire to be with or withdraw from others
- Rumination (frequent talking or brooding about stressful situations)
- Overwhelming sense of tension or pressure
- Trouble relaxing
- Quick temper
- Poor concentration
- Trouble remembering things
- Loss of sense of humor
Developing healthy stress responses
Many of us respond to stressful situations in a negative way. We hope the stressor will go away, then indulge in sugary treats or carbs and other foods to soothe us. Eating these foods change good bacteria into bad bacteria which then also increase your gut stress. With more dysfunctional behaviour, responses to stress can manifest as negative habits like excessive shopping, drinking or gambling in an effort to calm one’s emotions. However, this only leaves people with greater stresses in the future.
It is important to handle stress in a healthy and functional way and this begins by raising awareness about stress triggers. You can learn to deal with stress in the following ways:
- Try to address the issue directly
If you find yourself spending more than you should be and this can cause you financial stress, create a budget to help you manage your money to help you live within your means. This includes getting rid of unnecessary store cards and even credit cards if that will help.
If you are in a difficult but necessary relationship, try to find ways to help elevate the tension. Laughter is a good way to release tension and break the ice or you can find a third person to help negotiate challenging encounters. If the relationship is a close one then find ways to create experiences together and share joy.
2. Learn to refocus your mind
Although many stressful situations are avoidable, sometimes there are instances where this is not the case. When such situations occur it is important to center yourself with deep breaths and meditation, which would help bring down your stress levels.
An easy example of an everyday stressor is traffic and many know all too well the few individuals who seem to cut people off whilst driving. Should this happen to you, take a deep breath. Remember that it is more important to stay calm and cool-headed then to react negatively which could then also upset your stomach.
3. Think about a way to remove the stressor
If you find yourself reluctant to attend certain events that cause you stress it is okay to decline the invitation and do something you enjoy instead. Many people put themselves into situations that deep down they would rather avoid – so avoid them.
The heart (gut) of the matter
Emotions can affect your insides like a blender and there may not always be a bubble bath to jump into so you can relax. For this reason, it is important that people find small tools to help them cope with stress and other emotions. The easiest to begin with is taking a moment for deep breaths. From there, taking a walk and getting some fresh air can also help calm the nerves – particularly if the sun is out.
In the end, life is going to continue to challenge and keep you stimulated, engaged and sometimes enraged. Remind yourself about your priorities, what you are passionate about, who you are and what you want to do and be.
These thoughts bring you back to yourself and focus your energy on the things that will help you achieve your goals and manage your priorities.
It is about living a life that is a stress-free as possible and when stress does arise you have to tools to manage it so it does not interfere with your happiness or upset your body physically. Learning to manage your emotions can help you better manage your life.